As the Bush administration begins to move away from unilateralism, Europe is beginning to move towards itby Philip Gordon / April 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2005 issue of Prospect Magazine
>As became clear following President Bush’s recent trip to Europe, there is widespread agreement that unrestrained unilateralism is one of the main causes of the recent troubles in transatlantic relations. It is simply impossible, critics argue, to develop a balanced partnership when one of the partners believes it can decide what is right, act as it sees fit, ignore input from others, and expect that the partner will ultimately be obliged to follow along. The critics are right: if the relationship is to improve, Europe is simply going to have to stop behaving this way.
OK, I’m exaggerating. The first-term Bush administration richly deserved its reputation for ignoring allies’ advice and going it alone, whether on Kyoto, missile defence, a range of multilateral treaties, or of course Iraq. But at the same time, over the past few years the Europeans seem to be following Washington’s example and acting unilaterally themselves—even as the Bush administration is starting to understand the limits of its approach.
Europe doesn’t always appear to be acting unilaterally because it is made up of individual countries. So when Europeans together adopt an uncompromising line and ignore the objections of others, the individual countries that make up Europe are technically acting multilaterally. But the tendency to view Europe as individual countries obscures the truth that the continent’s major powers increasingly act as a bloc on foreign policy. (The divisions among them over Iraq last year, more the exception than the rule, also help obscure this truth.)
Seen this way, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that in many of the areas where Bush has been most uncompromising, Europe (as a whole) has also adopted a unilateral posture. Today, the US may be the most powerful and most assertive actor on the world stage, but on any number of topics, it’s not the only one behaving unilaterally.